This part two of my quest to find out what makes picantería food so good. Check out part I and read the background if you haven’t already.
Elena Espinoza likes Soltero de queso as her favorite because it uses very traditional cheeses.
Mario Urquizo Tapia likes cuy chactado. He likes the version at La Capitana because they cook the whole animal from head to tail including the eyes and the brain. He also like it because it has a crunch, like a cracker, and also likes that there is not too much fat.
I ask for a photo, he consents, and then turns around and continues eating.
Dora Maruja simply says Soltero de queso is her favorite because of the cheese.
Juan y Watty like the Americano because it allows you to try many different types of food.
At this table, there’s a nice family. The mom, Angela Lopez, helps translates for her family.
Wilfredo Zawalaga likes the Locro in La Capitana because it has flavor of being home cooking. I then ask the kid, Joaquin, about his favorite dish and he immediately says Pastel de Tallarin for the cheese.
Angela likes Chaque because it has a variety of meats, potatoes, and vegetables, and she thinks that the part of the lamb used (the intestines) is very tasty. She especially likes the Chaque in La Captina because it reminds her of her grandmother’s cooking.
As the lunch rush started winding down, I started asking the owners at staff who work with this food everyday about their favorites.
Julio César Díaz likes Pastel de Papa because his mom used to make it when he was a kid.
Giancarlo Palao Díaz‘s favorite is Costillar because his favorite part of the lamb is the ribs. It has a special crunch. He tried Costillar at several other places and thinks that the seasoning at La Capitana is unique and hard to replicate.
José Alfonso Díaz Huerta likes Ají de Calabaza because it is light and healthy.
Vilma Mollo Lito likes americanos because of the combinations of different food. She also likes locro and estofado because of the flavor.
During the course of the project, I tasted my way through most of the menu at La Capitana. If I had to pick one dish, I would say that my favorite would be Costillar because of the unique texture-crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside and the flavor of garlic and ají panca.
With ceviche, I tried different versions around Lima and tried to come up with a list of factors that made ceviche good. With picantería food, the repertoire of dishes is large enough that I wasn’t able to try everything in one month. Plus, there’s many different picanterías around Arequipa that all have their own family recipes passed down generation to generation. Even though I seemed to manage to have rocoto relleno every other day, it would take years for me to try multiple versions of every picantería dish. Finally, I think that there some dishes and tastes that you acquire over a lifetime and that it wasn’t fair to just project my tastes onto food that has been passed over many generations. It was an incredible experience to be able to hear firsthand from locals about what makes picantería food such an important part of Arequipa’s heritage.
Thank you to to all of my Spanish teachers in Cusco especially Fabriz who taught me how to interview people in Spanish. Also, many thanks to Giancarlo Palao Díaz for allowing me to interview the customers at La Capitana and helping me with the translation.